Overall purpose and relevance
One million species are on the verge of extinction and the introduction of non-indigenous species (NIS) to new environments is listed as one of the five key drivers impacting biodiversity, according to the recent IPBES global assessment. Small Islands Developing States, SIDS (or better called large ocean states), are particularly vulnerable to such a risk. In addition to the climate and biodiversity crises, marine bioinvasions also pose a real biosecurity risk for human health and the sustainability of livelihoods. It is widely recognized that ship’s ballast water and vessel biofouling, including the surge of new (or larger) marine structures linked to the unfolding and fast-growing blue economy, are the main vectors for the introduction and spread of NIS in the marine environment.
In 2004, the New Zealand government commissioned a multi-year research survey of over 500 international merchant, recreational, passenger, fishing, and slow-moving vessels to characterize the biofouling risks associated with arriving vessels (Hayes et al., 2019). The survey showed that most vessels (>70%) from all major types examined conveyed some biofouling into New Zealand on arrival. Over 65% of the 187 biofouling species identified in the study were non-indigenous to New Zealand and >70% of them had not yet established in New Zealand.
In 2011, a qualitative assessment of the likelihood of entry, establishment and impacts of more than 1,781 individual biofouling species in Australia was completed. They identified 56 Species of Concern that were not currently known to be present in Australia but had a high probability of arriving in Australian waters as biofouling on international vessels and had the potential to cause unacceptable impacts to environmental, economic, social/cultural or human health values. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had corresponding schedules listing Species of Concern that currently include 82 and 44 species, respectively (see list).
Early detection and mitigation, up to and including preventative measures, should be a top priority, and a system for early-warning and rapid response is needed to reduce and prevent the introduction of new species into the marine environment.
In 2011, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of IMO adopted biofouling guidelines toward reducing the transfer of invasive aquatic species by ships. However, in contrast to ballast water, there does not appear to be any comprehensive analysis of the compliance levels or efficacy of the biofouling guidelines. In addition, cost estimates for inspection regimes are difficult to estimate because there are no internationally agreed protocols for inspection and documentation of biofouling. At the 71st session of IMO’s MEPC, from 3 to 7 July 2017, the Committee approved the introduction of a new agenda item of its Sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) to review the IMO Biofouling Guidelines. This review will take place during two sessions scheduled in 2020 and 2021. Some of the future needs highlighted by the Committee are:
- States and other interested parties should encourage and support research into, and development of technologies for:
- shipboard monitoring and detection of biofouling;
- the geographic distribution of biofouling invasive aquatic species; and
- the rapid response to invasive aquatic species incursions, including diagnostic
tools and eradication methods.
- Potential operational benefits of such technologies should also be highlighted, and relevant information provided to the Organization.
On 13 September 2019, the 10 United Nations agencies that are a member of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) established a new GESAMP working group on biofouling with the aim to build a broader understanding on the introduction and spread of nonindigenous species (NIS) via biofouling across all maritime industries. This new GESAMP Working Group will be led by IOC-UNESCO and is co-sponsored by IMO and UNDP.
The GESAMP Biofouling working group aims to provide a global overview of the impact of biofouling across all maritime industries and structures and support the initial information requirements of the GEF/IMO-UNDP GloFouling Partnerships project, which started in January 2019, to understand the role of biofouling in the transfer of NIS. The PacMAN project will provide direct scientific input into the GESAMP WG and will support the basis for policy instruments and tools which deal with marine biofouling under the IMO.
A review of national plans and current activities on invasive species management in the Pacific was published by the Pacific Invasives Initiative in 2010. The review revealed that more effort needs to be put into: (i) baseline information and monitoring; (ii) developing systems for assessing risk and prioritizing invasive species for management; and (iii) research on priority invasives. The review came up with a long list of recommendations for and requirements for assistance to Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs), such as:
- develop databases to store invasive species information.
- develop standard techniques for monitoring the spread of invasive species.
- develop prioritization systems.
- carry out baseline research on invasive species.
- develop and implement decision tools to assist in the choice of management goals and techniques to be used in the management of established invasives.
- implement long-term monitoring programmes to ensure the adequate recovery of native species, ecosystems and other impacted values.
- carry out awareness programmes targeted at politicians to gain government support.
At the April 2010 “Helping Islands Adapt” workshop in Auckland, the Pacific group, plus several international and regional organizations, identified the lack of political support as a fundamental problem that currently prevents adequate investment in managing the impacts of invasive species. However, in Fiji, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of 2007 and its Implementation Framework 2010‐2014, are indicative of the strong commitment of the Government of Fiji to biodiversity conservation. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and its Implementation Framework identifies control of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) as critical to the success of biodiversity conservation and proposes priority actions, including: (i) adoption of relevant quarantine regulations; standards and tools developed to assist in the decision making processes involved in the importation of exotic species; (ii) strengthen legislation and enforce heavy penalties on individuals and organizations illegally importing organisms; (iii) increase public awareness of the risks and impact of exotic invasive species on native ecosystems and biodiversity; and (iv) effectively control invasive and potentially invasive species present in Fiji.
The establishment of the Biosecurity Authority Fiji (BAF) and the Biosecurity Promulgation 2008 is a further demonstration of government’s recognition and commitment to invasive species as a national priority. Various IAS projects and partnerships also exists including projects examining IAS as a carrier of disease vectors. In 2011, National Environment Council (NEC), established under the National Environment Management Act of 2005, set up the Fiji Invasive Alien Species Task Force (FIST) to help strengthen capacity and resources of key stakeholders to address IAS and established a formal committee for IAS under the NEC.
The Fiji Invasive Alien Species Project is being executed through the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF). Several outcomes and outputs are being proposed under this project. Of note is Outcome 1: Strengthened IAS policy, institutions and coordination at the national level to reduce the risk of IAS entering Fiji. Achievement of Outcome 1 is supported through the following outputs: National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan (NISSAP) completed and endorsed by National Environment Committee, Improved biosecurity capacity, develop national‐level Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) program trialed for Viti Levu. Early Detection and Rapid Response will require a regime of regular monitoring surveys at likely introduction sites for IAS (e.g., ports, nurseries) to discover new incursions. Outcome 4 relates to “Strengthened knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation in regard to invasive alien species and biosecurity” and this is in line with the aims of the PacMAN project.
Metabarcoding is rapidly becoming a key element in the toolbox for ecological research and biomonitoring. The European Marine Board in its Navigating the Future V: Marine Science for a Sustainable Future Position Paper (2019) reported that DNA barcoding is likely to become part of standard biological monitoring in the next decade and will play a major role in species identification, biodiscovery, biodiversity studies and population connectivity studies. Applications of metabarcoding include studies of community composition and shifts, monitoring of vulnerable and keystone species, and the detection of harmful species such as IAS and harmful algal blooms (HAB). However, as stated by Taberlet et al. (2018): “Metabarcoding has the potential to provide an unlimited resource of biodiversity records, but its democratization remains limited for several reasons. First, implementing a DNA metabarcoding study required multiple and disparate skills. Second, the pertinent information is dispersed in the scientific literature, which mainly involves pilot experiments and reviews, in a context lacking standards”. So there is a clear need for standardized protocols and automated tools and workflows, in order to operationalize these rapidly evolving technologies.
This project is also a follow-up from the call from the IODE Committee (at the 25th session (Tokyo, 2019), when they invited the Government of Flanders (Kingdom of Belgium) through the FUST, as well as other Member States and donor agencies, to consider providing financial support to OBIS (and its community network) to ensure OBIS can facilitate the co-development of a data and analytics platform for policy relevant applications, involving relevant partners, as well as to create specific training packages in collaboration with the OceanTeacher Global Academy.
Invasive alien species (IAS) are considered to be perhaps one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in the Pacific. Despite the fact that invasive species can be managed, there are several challenges such as the continuous environment and re-invasions which make eradication extremely difficult. It is relatively clear that it is much better and cost effective to prevent such invasions rather than attempting to eradicate once it has established. There is a need, at both national and regional level to address IAS in a capacitated and coordinated manner to ensure that there are effective and systematic strategies present that may detect the introduction and monitor the spread of IAS. For that reason, baseline surveys, surveillance, monitoring and contingency plans have an enormous impact in managing invasive species such as:
- Provisions for early detection and rapid response potentially preventing new incursions before dissemination occur. It is important to locate the species quickly before it establishes itself. Hence, surveys can be conducted to focus on high priority targets and high-risk locations.
- Baseline surveys which are helpful in recognizing and recording species that are presently existent at any particular location and monitoring these areas further detects new invasions.
- The inclusion and involvement of public and local communities in invasive management projects is useful as they are the ones closest to their respective areas and thus, would easily detect and report new species. Encouragement through education and awareness will maximize community participation which is critical in preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species.
- The enforcement of critical rules and regulations preventing the intentional introduction of alien species as well as minimizing any unintentional introductions. This would mean that any pathways or vectors will need to be identified, assessed and addressed. To protect our diversity, we require a set of preventative measures which are vital in reducing IAS incursion and establishment. In order to create and implement these measures, appropriate rules, regulations, funding and resources are mandatory. To implement these measures, a clearer picture and understanding of IAS in the Pacific is needed. The invasive species currently present, their locations and an understanding of other non-established species that pose a threat to the Pacific Island countries will highly facilitate the control and management of IAS. And to address this, surveys, monitoring, recording and surveillance conducted via projects would highly impact the management of IAS in the Pacific. The knowledge and data gained from such studies is useful in preventing the invasion of alien species and enabling improved mechanisms and preventative measures, including:
- Preparing for known and unwanted invasive species
- Developing monitoring systems of unknown species that are highly likely to invade
- Establishing barriers where needed (such as physical, community managed, etc)
- Preparing for the spread of invasive species that have already been recognized
- Developing of eradication strategies for species that have already entered the environment
- Developing awareness to further prevent IAS incursion